‘Helping’ the homeless by fining them

The new Home Office Statutory Guidance included a restriction on councils using PSPOs to target the homeless.

Some councils have heeded this, and withdrawn or modified PSPOs that affect homeless people.

But others seem to have taken another approach: they introduce a PSPO banning begging or rough sleeping, but insist that they are only doing it to help and support homeless people.

Doncaster Council has brought though a PSPO that bans sleeping overnight in  the town centre, begging, lying or sitting in or adjacent to doorways. This amounts to an outright ban on homelessness, yet the council insists that it is doing this out of concern for the homeless.

The PSPO will see the council, Police and other partners including St Leger Homes, RdASH, Aspire drug and alcohol services, Riverside and Doncaster Children’s Services Trust work together to address issues of concern such as homelessness, rough sleeping, begging and anti-social behaviour.

The council and police patrols, apparently, will be to ‘provide support and help to those who are homeless or rough sleeping’. Cllr Chris McGuinness, Cabinet Member for Communities, said: ‘The PSPO will be another tool to use to help those who may find themselves homeless or rough sleeping. We will be working with our partners to encourage people to get the help and support they need.’ Chief Inspector Jayne Forrest said: ‘Our priority is to ensure we are protecting vulnerable people…’

A draconian law, which involves financial and criminal penalties for people sleeping on the streets, is being presented as a social outreach project.

People caught begging could be fined £100 in Weymouth, yet the council insists that it is only doing this out of sensitivity:

Mr Byatt, who is responsible for community safety at the council, said: ‘We understand the difficulties of situations that lead individuals to begging, and will continue to be sensitive to people genuinely in need of our support.’

Coercive sanctions are being presented as a sign of the council’s sensitivity and support for the homeless. Some councils are even ‘supporting’ homeless people to pay their fines. Fenland Council is sending outreach workers into a local hostel, to talk to homeless people about why they hadn’t paid their fines:

inclusion and outreach officers linked to the local night shelter took actions to discuss the breaches directly with any service users that have repeatedly breached the PSPOs. ‘This is to help support payment of fines and to ensure individuals are fully aware of the conditions of PSPOs and the importance of not breaching these’.

This rhetoric is a shiny wrapping to disguise the unjustified use of coercive powers against the homeless. They will not be fooled for a minute, and we should not be either.